As Cora turned from the till, the coffees balanced on the Formica tray, she spotted Dan coming out of the newsagents, his rucksack slung across one shoulder, magazines tucked under his arm, his hands full of chocolate bars. She was stuck by how tall he was. When had that happened? Each meeting, each farewell, was like this: she watched him, as an observer might, hoarding the details in case he had – or might – change in the instant she looked away.
He gestured towards a table, and she wound her way between the travellers and the travelled, the meeters and the wavers-off.
‘Your article’s in this one,’ he said as he dropped his bag by the chair. He scattered the chocolate bars across the table, selected one and pushed it towards her. Turkish Delight.
‘Thanks,’ she said. ‘I’ll save it for tonight.’ The words ‘when you’re gone’ hung between them, unsaid. He smiled and flipped through one of the magazines, stopping at a full-page photograph of Cora. She pulled a face.
‘Well, at least it’s a half decent picture,’ he said. ‘”Cora Williams is a rare artist with the ability to reinvent herself.” I’ve heard that one before.’ He tore open a Lion Bar and took a bite.
Cora browsed through the article. It was positive, the sort of publicity she needed with an exhibition coming up. But Dan was right; the re-inventing label wasn’t original and although flattering, it created its own pressures. Always, always this expectation of change, as though it was part of her psyche rather than an accident of circumstances.
Her first exhibition had featured dolls, distorted angry figures. Four years of late miscarriages, all girls. Later there had been joy. Daniel. And for months no artwork and then suddenly everything was vast and chaotic and immeasurably blue. There had been papier mache sculptures and then in his teens – when they’d battled over who would bin the empty loo-roll inners and there had been dozens cluttering the bathroom before she gave in – there had been fantasy cities of tubular buildings. In between there had been textiles and ceramics, even glass and jewellery. Reinvention, but always inspired by the interaction of mother and child.
‘Anything interesting?’ he asked. Cora shook her head and put the magazine on the table. ‘Keep it,’ he said. She wondered if he was too embarrassed to take the magazine back to his room, where a college friend might see it and make the connection.
‘Better go,’ Dan said, swilling back the last of his coffee and stuffing the remaining chocolate bars in his jacket pocket. ‘You stay and finish yours,’ he added, reaching forward and dropping a perfunctory kiss on her cheek. ‘I’ll phone you tonight and let you know about the preview. Six weeks, yeah?’
She watched him lope off across the concourse, his loose rangy strides taking him all too quickly from her view.
She pulled the sketchbook from her bag and began to draw.
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